MCC photo/Diana Williams

Ms. Maria Mirenzi leads a group of incoming 3rd graders in a recorder lesson as they prepare for their end of the year performance at Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association’s summer camp in northeast Philadelphia. Students benefit from strengthened leadership thanks to the “Kingdom Builders Network Out of School Time Collaborative.”

A group in Philadelphia is building community and supporting one another to better enrich four youth programs. This collaboration is possible thanks to a grant from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for four Kingdom Builders Network (KBN) congregations and ministries as part of the “KBN Out of School Time Collaborative.”

What started in June of 2014 as a group of three has grown to support four programs: Abundant Life Academy (ALA), Crossroads Community Center (CCC), Orange Korner Arts (OKA) and Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA). All run summer camps and three of the four hold after school programs or clubs.

Quick Facts:

  • Abundant Life Academy (ALA) in south Philadelphia develops leaders, evangelizes, provides academic assistance and offers a support structure for children of immigrants. Their summer camp program has 130 students.
  • Crossroads Community Center (CCC) in north Philadelphia evangelizes, disciples and demonstrates the Gospel in word and deed. Their after school programming and summer outreach each have over 60 students in attendance.
  • Orange Korner Arts (OKA) in north Philadelphia is a faith-based community arts program centered on providing high-quality arts education for youth and their families. Their after school program has around 50 students and their summer camp around 80 students.
  • Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) in northeast Philadelphia develops leaders within the community youth. Their after school program reaches up to 135 students while their summer camp hosts up to 100 students.

Each program receives a small grant to help where needed most. However, the greatest strength of the group lies in its collaborative nature, where leaders come together to encourage one another and exchange ideas.

Every month, leadership from ALA, CCC, OKA and OCCCDA gather for 2 to 3 hours to reflect and pray, which includes prayer for the families they minister to through their work. They also learn from each other as they share experiences, resources and knowledge. In addition, they seek to inspire change as they observe new ways of interacting and working with inner city children and youth.

Katie Gard, a summer camp coordinator at OCCCDA summer camp, believes the word sustainability best describes the Collaborative. “If it were not for MCC, I don’t know if I would still be here doing this three years in. There is a lot of burnout [in after school programs]. The Collaborative was the place that I could come and share my concerns as they related directly to my program. It helped me feel like I wasn’t alone in the work.”

“It’s been helpful to talk out things and have a moment of debriefing on life as a leader in a nonprofit organization,” says Lauren Nefesha Fisher, community arts director at OKA. The group gives leaders a chance to take a moment and step away from the day-to-day work to reflect and provide emotional support to their peers.

 

Eric Rivera, painting and drawing teaching artist, and Lauren Nefesha Fisher, community arts director, show some of their students’ artwork at Orange Korner Arts in north Philadelphia.MCC photo/ChiChi Oguekwe

“You come back refreshed and renewed with new eyes, new thoughts and ideas… and a new hope for what you can do and for what you can see happen,” states Fisher.

Gard states, “Going into the [Collaborative] meetings at the end of a long work day I think, ‘Do I have time for this?’ But coming out of the meetings I realize the time was well worth it. The meetings kept me afloat so I could make it another month.”

The Collaborative also spends time with each of the other programs in the network as they seek to learn from one another. These site visits offer ways to see how the programs function, analyzing both their strengths and weaknesses, while discussing how to replicate learnings in their own sites. Past visits revealed the importance of clarifying leadership and others have shown how to run an effective art class.

Over shared meals, the group also learns about ways they can incorporate new ideas into their programs. While a few of the sites were struggling with behavioral issues, MCC staff offered ways to incorporate restorative justice principles into their programs.

This new thinking led Gard to stress that every child is part of the community at OCCCDA summer camp. She explains that when a child misbehaves, there is brokenness or separation in the community. This led her to have the child apologize to the entire class and not just the teacher as the behavior affected everyone.

 

Yanisha Bresil, group leader and Summer Service participant, Synthia Brown, coordinator, Katie Gard, coordinator, and Kevin Agustin, group leader, at OCCCDA summer camp. Katie helps support the program using methods she learned at the Collaborative.MCC photo/Diana Williams

But the Collaborative has shared more than just curriculum ideas and resources. The greatest impact has been on the spiritual formation of all of the leaders. Trust, vulnerability, sharing challenges and bearing one another’s burdens are part of every gathering. The leaders then replicate this meeting at their program sites with those they supervise and mentor.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

–Galatians 6:2

Daniel Lee, program coordinator at ALA, confirms, “Ministry can sometimes feel exhausting and lonely, but through the Collaborative I’m able to connect with people doing similar work. These relationships are the most life-giving part.”

“In the sharing of our ideas, petitions, questions, struggles and triumphs, we’ve shared ourselves. Having time together to encourage and pray for each other is both comforting and inspiring, allowing us to be better leaders in our programs,” states Lee.

The KBN Out of School Time Collaborative continues to support one another as they share God’s love and compassion for all children and youth while building up the Philadelphia community.